Unmanned vehicles, especially the aerial variety, as the subject of much attention in the military & aerospace industry; public opinion of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) appears to be split, as concerns over safety, security, and privacy grow. The UAV’s history is nonetheless intriguing.
In 1915, famous scientist and visionary Nikola Tesla first described a fleet of unmanned aerial combat vehicles. Soon after, between 1916 and 1917, a prototype known as the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane—devised and developed by Elmer Sperry, Lawrence Sperry, and Peter Hewitt—performed a series of test flights, which proved the feasibility of a pilotless plane.
This invention, a pilotless plane equipped with explosives, was also referred to as a “flying bomb” and is credited as the precursor to the cruise missile. The Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane’s history is likewise fascinating. Engineer Lawrence Sperry, for example, brought with him to the project the aerial warfare developments and techniques he had witnessed in Europe. (For more interesting factoids, this geek encourages others to look into the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane or to contact him for more information.)
The U.S. Navy included the aerial torpedo in its World War I preparations, appropriating $50,000 for work on the Hewitt-Sperry innovation. U.S. Army representatives, having witnessed a flight of the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane, initiated a military program related to development of the flying bomb.
In the following year (1918), Charles Kettering, industry representative for the U.S. Army project–assisted by Orville Wright, C.H. Wills of the Ford Motor Company, and representatives from various other companies–performed a successful test flight of the pilotless aircraft. The program produced 20 pilotless planes, referred to as “Bugs”–which this geek finds interesting, given the many nano- and micro-UAV firms that are modeling UAVs after insects.